Hall Of Shame Pool Renovation
This story is one that I have told many times over the years to customers to stress the importance of understanding that sometimes there are unforeseen circumstances that come up during a renovation. Nobody wants to get a quote for a job only to have the contractor come back and ask for more money once the job is underway. With a swimming pool, more than any other major renovation I could name, there exists the possibility of finding something that you simply can not ignore...something that nobody could have anticipated in advance. This happens due the lack of congruency of building practices in the pool industry. You never really know what the last guy did until you start digging things up. This is one of those scenarios.
This job was for a vinyl pool renovation on an old pool that had a serious leak issue. Upon inspection of the pool the water level was below the mouth of the skimmer and the skimmer throat was found to have fractured completely. This had resulted in about one inch of free air between the mouth of the skimmer and the body of the skimmer. The two were not even connected anymore. It was pretty obvious that the skimmer would need to be replaced, as well as the liner due to the age and condition it was in. The rest of the water in the pool was dark, and probing of the floor and slopes did not do much to reveal their condition.
The main challenge that I had with this project was that I was working through a 10 year old girl as an interpreter for her father. He definitely understood that the pool required repairs however he was extremely dismissive of my concerns for potential problems. Whenever I would do a pool renovation such as this I would typically attempt to counsel the client as to what I expect to find, and what I do not expect to find. This helps the pool owner to understand the process that I am taking and the potential concerns that can be encountered along the way. In this instance I suspect that I did not stress the importance of understanding about additional problems enough...but this was very early in my career and I still had much to learn about how swimming pools can surprise you.
As any seasoned swimming pool contractor can tell you, there are certain pool customer profiles that you can just tell will be very skeptical of additional work orders once the project has begun. As early in my career as I was, I still was able to recognize this client was having a very hard time parting with his money despite the fact that the pool was in a state of hopeless disrepair. We agreed to a contract, and I collected the deposit to begin with the understanding that the skimmer is being replaced, the plumbing system is being pressure tested and the liner is being replaced. I advised that minor floor and wall repairs would be included for the liner preparation, and I also advised that any pipe that fails the pressure test will need to be isolated, dug up and repaired. Thinking my bases were mostly covered I was happy to proceed with the work.
Now at this point, you probably are already starting to have some ideas as to what happened. Some of you might be thinking about rust on the walls of the pool that can happen from a long withstanding leak situation. I was also thinking about this. I had done my best to feel around on the walls, and I definitely felt some texture through the liner. I even popped out a few sections of the liner and some basic inspections revealed isolated patches of rust...something like you would see when there was a pinhole in the liner and over a long period of time a rust circle develops. the only strange thing was that there was evidence of many pinhole locations. Still, this was nothing that I considered too severe. In fact, my main concern moving into the contract was going to be the result of the pressure test. The entire yard and pool area was concrete so it was clear that any leak detection or repair is going to involve cutting and breaking concrete. Cutting and breaking concrete, no matter how much or how little, is simply not something that I do for free. Running a concrete saw is right up there with my all time least favorite things to do and rest assured if my saw comes off of the truck you will be experiencing additional charges. This was my main concern since I suspected I was going to have trouble getting more money if the results of the pressure test warrant additional work.
The pressure test was the first order of business as I wanted to identify any significant costs in the job before I got too far in to the contract. I dropped my large submersible pump into the pool and set about setting up the pressure test of the system. I quickly identified that the skimmer line was leaking but since I had to replace the skimmer anyway I figured I would retest the line once I removed the skimmer body connection. Most likely the line would be leaking from that connection location anyway so I was not too concerned about it. The return lines were put under test and were apparently holding. since this was the end of the day I just unplugged the pump, and left with the pressure test running on the return lines.
The next morning I was very pleased to see that the return lines had not lost any pressure overnight so I went ahead and released the pressure confident that these pipes were good. I remember vividly feeling really good about this. I had been worried about the pipes needing more work, and worried about my ability to articulate through a 10 year old interpreter that additional funds are required for leak repair work. I remember releasing the pressure and feeling great, and taking my first sip of coffee that was at just the right temperature for my liking. Life was good. So I put my coffee on the pool deck and hopped into the shallow end of the pool.
The moment my boots touched the floor I registered that something was wrong. Thinking back I can not remember if it was the sound, or the feel of the floor, or if perhaps it was something I saw first...when I think back all I can really remember is the high pitched ringing sound in my ears as I came to realize what I was looking at. As I peeled up the vinyl floor I was not immediately sure what I was looking at. The floor was brown, with a crust of some kind, and appeared to be a dirt floor. Now, just to clarify something here, I said a dirt floor, not a sand bottom. The floor of the pool was indeed dirt, mixed with rocks and sticks and debris, but that is only the very beginning of the problem.
Upon investigating the brown crust-like substance I could not identify it. I removed a large section of the vinyl on the floor to get a better look at what was going on. I was careful to make cuts in the liner on the horizontal surface of the wall so that I would be able to try to protect the floor since rain can cause damage for sand bottom pools that are left drained. As soon as I cut away and saw a section of the floor where it meets the wall I new what I was looking at...but I could not believe it. Since the floor was a very roughly graded dirt, and totally unsuitable for installing a liner over, it appears the previous liner installer had an ingenious idea.
The entire floor, slopes and pad of this pool had been lined with sheet metal. Sheet metal laying on dirt and rocks with the seams taped together with duct tape. The metal was of a thickness that you could bend and shape it with your hands, just a little thinner than what would be used in common day HVAC ducting. While I suppose that the previous installer must have been very proud of himself for solving the problem of a pool that needs a floor installed in it...the scene that I was witnessing was a horror show.
As you might recall, the skimmer throat was completely severed and this pool had been essentially sitting in a bathtub of chlorinated water for an unknown amount of time. Combine this with thin sheets of metal covering the entire pool floor and the end result that you have when you remove the old liner is approximately 1 billion tiny razor sharp pieces of rusty steel covering a dirt floor. My immediate reaction was to look around in disbelief and wonder how in the hell I will ever be able to install a liner into this pool. One tiny piece of rust is enough to cut a liner...and I am an absolute zealot about not having anything sharp in or around a new liner. This was close to a meltdown moment for me. I had no idea how to deal with a pool that had a sheet metal floor that had disintegrated into a giant rusty pile of liner slashing fragments.
By the time this job had been finished there was a new smooth concrete bottom installed in the pool. Before this could happen we had to take out and replace yards of dirt filled with steel shavings. All of this required taking down two fences and the cost of the project more than doubled. At the end of the day I ended up doing work I didn't want to do, at less than my going rate, just to try to help get a conclusion to the project. More than anything though I learned that you can absolutely never fully anticipate what you will find when you start digging up older pools. I would have though that it would be an obviously bad idea to line a pool with thin panels of sheet metal, and it is, but I guess every pool guy has his own ideals of how to get the job done. For me, this story and this pool easily deserve a mention in the swimming pool hall of shame.
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